Thursday, 24 September 2009

On The Ground

A dry September is a joy, even for those who stroll about only looking at the ground (and there are some like that). You may be failing to see the berries and trees changing colour or you may miss the stag on Blacka Hill as I did - I had to be told about it by other walkers enjoying a beautiful morning.

But you may stll get to see the natural patterns on the paths that are heartwarming in their variety and must have inspired in the past William Morris among others. Fortunately SWT's clumsy cattle have not trashed every path and their impact is at its worst in wet weather.

Slightly off-path is the beech litter above Blacka Dyke home to these russula mushrooms mat yellow above and pure white gills below.

Monday, 21 September 2009


We try to like SWT and we badly want to believe in them but they do make it very hard for us. For several years we have said that the management of a space like Blacka needs a single on-site worker dedicated to getting to know the place properly, understanding the appeal of it for local people and doing what needs to be done before small jobs become a major problem. It is surely exactly what a wildlife organisation responsible for sites should be keen to do. But they categorically ruled this out. Their choice is to be a remote deskbound institution. The situation is not unlike the police where being on the beat is less favoured than filling in forms. SWT seem to have a preferred management model part like Tesco and part like the City Council.
I could happily support an organisation that was focused on a warden structure with people walking the paths and doing repairs, noting the wildlife and helping visitors. But not a place that has an official HQ 7 miles away and spends more time at desks than on site. The most important part of their job is the paperwork and the meetings. Now they are appointing a Marketing Manager. What do we need one of these for? If you have a role that entails looking after a place you should get ahead and do it. A job well done speaks for itself. Only a badly done job needs someone to present it in a favourable light.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Wet Places

Such a long dry spell at this time of year is an opportunity to look at the wetter places that have been affected by SWT's various management decisions. The path across Cowsick was affected by the damming of the old drainage channels and they only belatedly agreed to do something about the impact of this on access for walkers. It's still very wet leading to fears that in normal times few people will wish to walk this way. As can be seen even the slabs are wet.

The cattle have chosen to drink where the deer used to come. This was where you could get an idea of the deer traffic as they crossed over to the lower secluded slopes of Bole Hill. Now the cattle have predictably turned the whole area to mud.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Elder and Better

Devotees of free food know all about the elder, valued for its flowers and its berries, though if you like both you have to decide if there are enough local trees to satisfy the demand. It's best to leave some flowers if you want berries from the same tree. Some won't eat elderberry, considering it poisonous but my information is that the ripe berries are fine. The unripe green berries should be avoided. This is the third of the fruits providing the most nutritious trace elements, after the bilberry and blackberry, purple/black all.
Yesterday's mushroom was by some way the tastiest eaten this year (and mushrooms are what I eat most of!).

Rude Noises

The peace of early Sunday morning can be interrupted in ways that never happened 20 years ago. An obsessive motor biker, a lover of the most raucous noise his machine can make, is in the habit of roaring up the Hathersage Road at around 7.30 am on this day each week. Occasionally others join him. Tranquility must be so bothersome to them it really must hurt.

But ten minutes of tranquility this morning was shattered by another noise. The strident bellow coming up from the depths of Blacka's most inaccessible parts reminded us that the annual rut cannot be far off. And in another part the stag seen last week was making his way across the thick mass of low shrubbery; he was identifiable by the forked left antler.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Power Tools Weekend

A digression: Though some people may see a link with Blacka. Why oh why do people who have spent the week indoors at desks and similar work place sites feel the overwhelming need to rush out into their gardens on a beautiful peaceful Saturday morning and spoil it by using every power tool ever invented, the noisier the better? Is it because the frustration of working zombie-like in the modern economy can only be exorcised by the kind of sense of control you get from operating such things as fast cars and chain saws?

A better form of release from your demons would be gained by hard physical work, using spade, hand saw and sledgehammer. It may also earn you the gratitude of your neighbour.

More Free Food

It's also that it tastes a lot better than from Tesco. So far this year we have had bilberry and blackberry. Elderberry should also be ripe soon as it is in the more sheltered spots lower down.

These larger mushrooms are occasionally found here though there is more variety of edible species at Longshaw.


One of the pleasures of a settled day in September is the sight of extended family groups of small birds. They suddenly appear apparently in high spirits involved in some competitive game. As with the dragonflies yesterday they are hard to photograph on the wing successfully. The pasture land this morning had more interest than usual though still more farmland than people's recreation area. Friends of Blacka Moor are considering whether some fairly minor changes might improve its value for people and lift it from being just a sheep farm.

Friday, 11 September 2009

New Development

Will the building going up behind Fairthorn as seen from the hills turn out to be another ghastly mistake? It certainly looks to be huge. Perhaps it's the one with its own squash court being built for an estate agent . I'm sure an experienced and successful estate agent will know his way around the Planning Department. Given their record on Fairthorn nothing would surprise me.

The latest letter I received from the Head of Planning says he doesn't consider that Fairthorn sets a precedent but only after saying that there are strong similarities between that building and others close by which justify it!

Utter Failure

Have you ever tried to photograph a dragonfly on the wing? I must have taken 20 shots guessing there might be one reasonable one not too blurred as it flew off. Result: completely absent from each one.
There were three beautiful ones dancing over the unsavoury looking pool on Moss Road enlivened by the warm September sun. Not a place I expected to find much of interest or beauty.

Monday, 7 September 2009

First Glimpse

One of those magical moments, the first sight of a hind with its young calf. making all those mornings walking in rain and mud and fighting off midges worthwhile. Seen this morning through a haze caused by fine driving rain as the sun forced its way through. We have been frustrated for many weeks, in fact all the summer, feeling sure there was at least one hind safely concealed in the most inaccesible parts hiding in the bracken. Meanwhile stags had all but disappeared from Blacka. The most striking thing is the size of the young deer already. The hind has kept it well hidden all these weeks until it's deemed strong enough to cope with the more open world. At first, at a distance I wondered if it was two hinds, but the body language of the hind and the shyness of the calf behind her told the story.

I would guess the birth took place fairly early in the year. Another walker says she has seen a stag and hind in another part of Blacka also this morning. The autumnal weather may be bringing more of them back.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Early Appearance

Everything seems to be early this year. The bilberries, the blackberries, the bracken appearing and then the bracken dying back. The waxcaps, magic mushrooms and other fungi are already to be found on the pastures. The first determined magic mushroom hunters were seen more than a week ago well before the start of the new student year.

Shy Visitor

For some reason the red deer that have been a feature on Blacka in recent years have not been around during my morning walks since early June. Sometimes there have been odd hoof prints seen but that's all. Why they should abscond I don't know. I've wondered if they've taken against the imported cattle in some way but decided that it's more likely they've moved away from the midges towards more elevated and breezier regions. It was no surprise that when I did eventually see a stag, as I did this morning, it would be the characteristic sight of antlers waving above the bracken.
Now this fellow's headgear is interesting and suggests an older and more mature beast. The right antler has three good long points on the crown but the left one unusually branches into two lower down. It would have been intereting to get a closer look but he didn't like my presence despite my being more than a hundred yards away. He moved off quite smartly. Although it's disappointing when you don't see them, in a way it's reassuring that they are truly wild and making their own minds up what they do and where they go.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Unfavourably Red

It's maybe only in land condemned as unfavourable by the controllers of landscape that we get such surprises. But I can't think of anywhere else where this red effect dominates as it does here in the first days of September.

Rowan has grown unchecked by grazing livestock, has enjoyed the opportunity to spread as it wishes and rewards us with creamy blossom in May and red berries in late summer.
This is not a permanent feature, just a stage on the way to something else. It could be called overgrown or unmanaged by those who only value natural life to the extent that it has been influenced and managed by man. The gorge of Blacka Dike is full of it and seems as close to wildness as we can hope for in this country - and is wonderful.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


What would Sheffield be like if J G Graves had not existed or if he had been less munificent? Blacka was just one of his gifts to the people of Sheffield. Ecclesall Woods and Graves Park, visible from Blacka, were also bought by him for the people to enjoy.
We can also now see a huge tall building reaching for the sky in the centre of the city some 5 miles away. Just a hundred yards from there and not visible from Blacka is a genuinely worthwhile example of good architecture, the Graves Art Gallery and Central Library, possibly the only distinguished building in the city. At present there is a small exhibition within the art gallery devoted to Graves himself. He made his money from a mail order business, The Universal Supply Warehouse and spent a great deal of it as a benefactor. His business was a kind of Amazon of the day in Sheffield.
He was also a lover of beautiful things of various sorts leaving his collection of art work to the gallery he funded. The exhibition devoted to him is only small but definitely worth a visit.